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Caregiver Creativity with The Traveling Artist, Erica Curcio

As you care for your loved one, many of you may experience the regular daily routine eventually becoming a bit mundane, uneventful, or something is missing in your life. Some days may be frustrating and stressful while other days may be a bit boring or restrictive. Since Mom was not much of an afternoon napper I wanted something we could do together aside from meals and household duties. She loved playing scrabble or dominos but I wanted to do more crafts together for my own sanity. I figured crafting would help her engage in different ways too.

Planning an outing to go do a craft and perhaps a meal after gave me something to look forward to. Changing up the routine was one thing but finding as many opportunities to stimulate Mom's mind quickly became my goal. Trying to get Mom to be creative with me brought about another set of challenges though. Knowing how creative she used to be building dollhouses did not necessarily mean she wanted to continue to be creative or found pleasure in it still. I had to learn a new set of boundaries to work around because I needed the creativity time more than she did at this point.

I asked my next guest, Erica Curcio, also known as the Traveling Art Therapist, to share her passion with Art Therapy and techniques that I could have fun with and also help make sense regarding why Mom may struggle to have fun crafting with me.

Erica Curcio is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Art Therapist based in Boston Massachusetts. She has been working with people living with dementia for the past ten years. Erica uses art and the creative process to bring dignity, joy, and connection to all who are living with dementia. She has presented to local Boston groups with the most recent being at the Alzheimer's Association in Massachusetts and the New Hampshire Chapter's titled Map Through The Maze. Her presentations focus on learning about art therapy for people living with dementia, as well as being a part of the process through guided art-based self care.

I agree with Erica that finding time to be creative is yet another form of self-care. For me, writing has helped to empty my mind to reduce anxiety and stress. There are times when I do not want to think intensely because I would rather pick up my paintbrush or coloring pencils and my adult coloring book. I did not realize how soothing painting could be until I bought a variety of materials with hopes of helping Mom find a new passion or spark an old passionate hobby. Mental health and creativity or engaging the right brain has a direct effect as a soothing stress reliever.

The time spent in our local Hobby Lobby store was fun to me just getting out of the house to go isle by isle seeing the endless creative projects. Mom did not seem interested at all in any of the dollhouse projects which I had expected her to show some interest in. Then again, she didn't show interest in anything in particular. For me, it was exciting with the endless opportunities. For Mom, I could tell after a few inquiries of what she thought or wanted, there was too much to choose from. Similar to dressing for the day with fewer choices to make, Mom needed a smaller group of decisions to make.

I bought a raw wood birdhouse with a few paints and brushes then hoped for the best. Mom did not know what she wanted any more than I knew what to choose for her before selecting the birdhouse. This is where some of Erica's suggestions came in handy for me. Next time I know to include imagery before going shopping or ordering materials online. The imagery provides an opportunity to ask which one Mom liked best or stir a new thought process. This question opens up the conversation and hands over control by creating an option where they are in control of the direction of the conversation or the craft.

I was more excited about painting the birdhouse once I set up the table with all the materials. I was disappointed when Mom did not care to paint nor sit with me while I painted. The last time I could get her to paint she refused to pick out a porcelain piece until she watched my son paint his piece. He chose a simple little porcelain plant pot which grabbed her interest when he started to paint so she picked up a brush to join in. This was not exactly what he had planned on or expected.

Looking back on that moment I can understand why Erica teaches about the 3 C's of art - Choice, Control, and Container. Mom chose not to pick out a piece but later chose to participate on her own terms. She felt his now green planter needed a dark rim of contrasting color and he disagreed. Yet as I offered another piece of her own to dabble with she refused. She no longer felt in control I suppose.

Control or feeling the lack of control may also be caused by depth perception and vision loss. Wearing their glasses may not be enough so make sure lighting is more than adequate and creating contrast between the tabletop and the art surface is obvious. The art studio had very bright florescent lighting where the tabletop I created at home for our birdhouse had natural light from the windows. This lighting seemed relaxing to me but it also created shadows on one side of the birdhouse. Asking Mom to join me while I started painting the birdhouse was a weak lure. I was hoping she would decide to take control again, but she decided to work on her word seek-n-find book instead.

Even though I had a nice relaxing moment painting, I wanted us to be able to create a memory together. Something that would hold a story, later on, to share or recall. I was hoping for a bit more conversation than our typical chat about the weather or meals. These hopes brought about yet another boundary I learned to understand and respect - multitasking. I may be able to multi-task by painting and talking but for Mom, she needed her entire focus on one task at a time. The conversation would be minimal, if at all. I was trying to make more out of our creative time together which limited space for her to be openly creative.

I eventually had to accept that Mom had many different reasons or physical limitations for not wanting to be creative. This was nothing for me to take personally but so much learned from each of her rejections. Either way, I continued to paint the little birdhouse and enjoyed every bit. I found a quiet peaceful moment with a paintbrush and colors to brighten my mood and relax my stress over making our moments together meaningful. I realized the moment I allowed myself to let the world around me pause while I tapped into my creative side was just as meaningful and necessary.

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Thank you for joining in and listening with us today. You can find more about this topic on the blog at I hope this gave you more food for thought and until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care, everybody.



Intro: Vacation Time by Khris Paradise

Outro: Misty by Khris Paradise

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